Private collections

View records from private individuals, families, estates and solicitors.

West Sussex Record Office has a number of collections deposited by private individuals and organisations, including the records of local businesses and solicitors. Some of them relate to prominent families and estates in West Sussex and are internationally important - they include the following collections, but we have many others.

Blunt Manuscripts (Wilfrid Scawen Blunt)

This collection of Blunt's correspondence covers the period 1855-1922. It reflects the many facets of a gifted, controversial maverick. He is best remembered as a poet - notably for his sonnets and lyrics - but his interests and activities extended far beyond the literary world.

An indefatigable traveller, especially in the Middle East and India, he became an early and eloquent advocate of anti-Imperialism. His support for Irish nationalism kept him constantly involved in political controversy.

He was married for 37 years to Lady Anne Lytton, Byron's granddaughter, who shared his passion for travel, literature and horses. Together they built up the Crabbet Arabian Stud, which was unparalleled in this country.

Blunt's correspondents reflected all these aspects of his life. The collection here contains letters from several hundred correspondents, including major figures in the literary world and in English, Irish and Middle Eastern politics. 

Readers should bear in mind the fact that Blunt rarely kept copies of his side of the correspondence. It should also be noted that a large collection of his more personal papers are held in a separate collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Buckle Papers (Admiral Matthew Buckle)

The Buckle Papers are likely to be of considerable interest to students of British naval history in the 18th and 19th centuries. They include the papers of several high-ranking naval officers who achieved great distinction during some of the most famous naval campaigns in British history.

Perhaps the most celebrated member of the family was Admiral Matthew Buckle. He entered the navy at the age of 13 in 1731, and was appointed to his first command, as Captain of HMS Russell, in 1745. The country was then at war with France and Spain, and in 1747 Captain Buckle won national fame by capturing a Spanish man-of-war, the Glorioso, off Cape St Vincent.

During the Seven Years War (1756-63) he served as Flag-Captain to Admiral Sir Edward Boscawen in HMS Namur, and took part in the capture of Louisburg and the battle of Quiberon Bay. His career is unfolded in a fine series of log books in which he entered details of the voyages he made and the campaigns in which he fought.

In the following century Matthew Buckle's grandson, Claude Henry Mason Buckle, enjoyed a similarly successful naval career, and himself rose to the rank of Admiral. As commander of a new steam sloop, HMS Growler in the 1840s, he was employed in the suppression of the slave trade off the west coast of Africa, and the diaries he wrote on board that ship record the capture of Spanish slaving ships, the sacking of villages and dealings with local leaders.

In the Crimean War of 1854-56 he served as Captain of HMS Valorous, and saw action in several of the more important naval engagements against the Russians. Another member of the family, Charles Matthew Buckle, also served as Lieutenant aboard HMS Vengeance, and the family papers include detailed letters written to his parents in which he describes the operations in the Black Sea and Crimea, including the celebrated assault on the Russian naval base of Sebastopol.

On retiring from active service in 1881, Charles Matthew Buckle embarked on a number of pleasure trips to Europe, North America and the Holy Lands. He recorded his observations in a series of travel journals which provide a fund of information on the topography, economy and social life of the countries he visited. The diary of the American tour in 1885 is particularly interesting, containing notes on his visits to the major cities in the United States and other places of interest, such as Niagara Falls and Yellowstone National Park. The text is liberally illustrated with photographs, postcards, and cuttings.

Cobden Archives (Richard Cobden)

We are privileged to have custody of a substantial part of the archives of Richard Cobden, the 19th century politician and statesman, who is remembered for his contribution to the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the Anglo-French Commercial treaty of 1860.

Cobden was born at Dunford in the parish of Heyshott, near Midhurst, in 1804, and returned there later in life to build the present Dunford House, now the property of the National Council of the YMCA. He died in 1865 and was buried in the churchyard at neighbouring West Lavington.

The records held at Chichester were deposited by the Trustees of Dunford House and by Mr R Cobden-Sanderson, grandson of Richard Cobden. They are catalogued in two volumes:

  • The Cobden Papers, edited by F W Steer (WSCC, 1964)
  • The Cobden and Unwin Papers, edited by Patricia Gill (WSCC, 1967).

Other collections of Cobden Archives are held elsewhere, notably in the British Library.

The archives in the Record Office include accounts, diaries and journals, articles and speeches, scrapbooks, photographs and drawings. The strength of the collection lies in the extensive correspondence of Cobden with fellow free-trade campaigners such as John Bright and leading politicians, such as Gladstone and Peel.

Of particular importance amongst the other family papers are the records of Cobden's third daughter, Emma Jane Cobden, whose various causes included women's suffrage and the defence of free trade. The papers include correspondence and scrapbooks of ephemera relating to various political events during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Goodwood Archives

The Goodwood Archives are the papers of the Dukes of Richmond and Gordon and their estate, centred on Goodwood near Chichester.

The 1st Duke, the natural son of King Charles II by Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, purchased a hunting lodge at Goodwood in 1695. By the time of the 3rd Duke the estate had grown to some 17,000 acres in Boxgrove, Westhampnett, East Dean, Singleton, Tangmere, Lavant and West Itchenor.

Today the estate has a world-famous racecourse and motor racing circuit, and is home to the annual Festival of Speed. The estate archives are chiefly notable for the fine late-18th century estate surveys by Thomas Yeakell and William Gardner.

The family holds four dukedoms - Richmond, Lennox, Gordon and Aubigny - and the surviving archives reflect this. They include the correspondence of the five Dukes of Gordon and an extensive archive of the Aubigny estates.

The correspondence collections are especially rich for:

  • a fine series of accounts with local and London trades which survive for the first three dukes
  • 2nd Duke (1701-1750) - Master of the Horse, literary and artistic patron and Newcastle's agent in the county
  • 5th Duke (1791-1860) - Member of Grey's reforming ministry and later a leader of the protectionist party
  • 6th Duke (1818-1892) - Leader of the Conservative party in the House of Lords and first Secretary for Scotland.

Note on access: No family papers after the death of the 7th Duke in 1928 may be consulted without permission of the trustees of the Goodwood Collection. Requests should be put in writing through the Record Office; estate papers are closed for 30 years.

Maxse Papers

This collection includes the papers of Admiral Frederick Augustus Maxse (1833-1900) and his two sons, Sir Ivor Maxse and Leo Maxse. The papers of Admiral Maxse include documents relating to women's suffrage, which he opposed, and a large number of letters from George Meredith.

Leo Maxse was editor of the periodical 'The National Review' from 1893-1929, and the collection of his correspondence includes letters from many of the leading politicians of the day. Subjects range from the Dreyfus Case to the armament trade and the First World War. The letters are indexed by both correspondent and subject.

The papers of General Sir Ivor Maxse contain a lot of material relating to his work in the army and include some very detailed letters written to his wife from the Front during the First World War. Some of the material relating to Sir Ivor Maxse has not yet been catalogued, but a rough list is held at the Record Office.

Petworth House Archives

The Petworth House Archives form the largest private collection under the care of West Sussex Record Office. The house and estate have been in continuous ownership for 800 years, though the majority of the archives date from the late-16th century onwards.

The estate belonged to the Percy Earls of Northumberland, from whom it descended to the Wyndham family. At various times the family have owned estates in other counties including Yorkshire and Cumberland, for which there is a separate archive at Cockermouth Castle.

The estate archives are extensive, with particularly fine maps and surveys made in the early-17th and late-18th and 19th centuries. There is a good survival of manorial records for the West Sussex and Yorkshire estates.

The family were the major employers in the local area and wage books survive from the late-16th to mid-20th centuries, though not all series are complete. The archives also contain a fine series of tradesmen's bills from the late-18th and 19th centuries, which include bills from leading London suppliers.

Four volumes of the catalogue of the Petworth House Archives have been published in conventional form; Volumes I and IV are unfortunately out of print, but Volumes II and III are available to purchase. A fifth volume has been completed, but this is only available online.

Notes on access: Since the archives are kept at Petworth House, where no access is allowed, all documents must be ordered at least four weeks in advance so they can be brought back to the Record Office for consultation. We may, on occasion, need to limit the number of items we bring back from Petworth. No post-1945 documents may be consulted without the express permission of Lord Egremont, the owner of the archives. Permission should be requested through the Record Office. You will also need to obtain permission in advance, through the Record Office, if you wish to obtain a scan or photograph.

Shillinglee Papers

The Shillinglee Papers mainly consist of deeds relating to the Shillinglee Estate in Kirdford and other properties belonging to the Turnour family (Earls Winterton from 1734). The collection also includes some documents relating to Sir Edward Turnour (1616/7-1676), judge and speaker of the House of Commons, and his son Sir Edward Turnour (c1646-1721), lawyer and politician.

Wiston Archives

A large collection of title deeds, settlements and wills relating to the Wiston Estate, which included properties in many parishes in both West and East Sussex. There are only a few papers relating to the Fagge and Goring families who owned the estate.

Last updated:
3 October 2023
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